St. Louis River
US EPA RAP Liaison
U.S. EPA, GLNPO
77 West Jackson Blvd. (G-17J)
Chicago, IL 60604-3590
Minnesota RAP Coordinator
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
525 Lake Avenue South, Suite 400
Duluth, MN 55802
Wisconsin AOC Contact
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
1402 Tower Avenue
Superior, WI 54880
St. Louis River Alliance
Chair, St. Louis River Alliance
394 S. Lake Avenue - Suite 321
Duluth, MN 55802-2325
Julene Boe (firstname.lastname@example.org)
St. Louis River Alliance
394 S. Lake Avenue - Suite 321
Duluth, MN 55802-2325
Fond du Lac Tribe
Water Projects Coordinator
1720 Big Lake Road
Cloquet, MN 55720
- Arrowhead Regional Development Commission
- City of Duluth, MN
- City of Superior, WI
- Fond du Lac Tribe
- Harbor Technical Advisory Committee
- Lake Superior Binational Program
- Minnesota Department of Natural Resources
- Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
- Minnesota Sea Grant
- River Watch Project
- River Quest
- St. Louis River Alliance
- The Nature Conservancy
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
- U.S. EPA
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- Western Lake Superior Sanitary District
- Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
- Wisconsin Sea Grant
- 1854 Authority
- Beneficial Use Impairments
- Delisting Targets
- RAP Development and Status
- Significant RAP Milestones
- RAP Implementation
- RAP-Related Publications
- Community Involvement
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The St. Louis River, the largest U.S. tributary to Lake Superior, drains 3,634 square miles, entering the southwestern corner of the lake between Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin. The river flows 179 miles through three distinct areas: coarse soils, glacial till and outwash deposits at its headwaters; a deep, narrow gorge at Jay Cooke State Park; and red clay deposits in its lower reaches. As it approaches Duluth and Superior, the river takes on the characteristics of a 12,000 acre freshwater estuary. The upper estuary has some wilderness-like areas, while the lower estuary is characterized by urban development, an industrial harbor and a major port. The lower estuary includes St. Louis Bay, Superior Bay, Allouez Bay, Kimball's Bay, Pokegama Bay, Howards Bay and the lower Nemadji River.
The St. Louis River System Area of Concern (AOC) is the area being addressed by the St. Louis River System Remedial Action Plan (RAP). The RAP focuses primarily on the 39 miles of the St. Louis River below Cloquet, Minnesota.
The RAP began in 1989 as a collaborative effort between the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR). At that time, the agencies created a Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC). In 1997, with agency assistance, the CAC opened its doors as an independent nonprofit organization known as the Citizens Action Committee. Many of the original citizen and agency partners are still active in the RAP and CAC. While system-wide in its approach, the St. Louis River AOC focuses primarily on the lower 39 river miles and the entire 360 square mile Nemadji River watershed. The Nemadji River is split almost equally between Minnesota and Wisconsin and discharges into the Duluth-Superior Harbor near the natural outlet of the St. Louis River.
Beneficial Use Impairments
- Restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption
- Excessive Loading of Sediment and Nutrients
- Degradation of fish and wildlife populations
- Beach closings
- Fish tumors or other deformities
- Degradation of aesthetics
- Degradation of benthos
- Restriction on dredging activities
- Loss of fish and wildlife habitat
The RAP process determined that nine of 14 identified beneficial uses were impaired. Some impairments were associated with the physical loss and degradation of habitat, with the estuary having lost an estimated 7,700 acres of wetland and open water habitat having been altered or destroyed since settlement. For years, the river smelled bad from industrial discharges. That changed in 1978, when the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District (WLSSD) wastewater treatment plant began operation. Nevertheless, pollution continues to come from sources such as contaminated sediments, abandoned hazardous waste sites, poorly designed or leaky landfills, airborne deposition, industrial discharges, chemical spills, improperly sewered wastes, and surface runoff.
For further information and details on all of the BUIs, see a corresponding St. Louis River Beneficial Use Impairments (PDF 80Kb 2 pages) document, the Restoration Goals for Beneficial Use Impairments SLRCAC web page, and the Remedial Action Plan (RAP) documents listed in the RAP Development and Status section below.
In 2004, the SLRCAC proposed restoration goals (PDF 471Kb 12 pages) for many of the impaired uses through a citizen process and submitted them to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. The agencies will review the proposed goals in light of environmental data and potential actions. The state agencies’ review, revisions and clarifications, and adoption of the delisting targets is the next phase that needs to be accomplished. The targets will serve as the roadmap for actions to lead to delisting the AOC.
The SLRCAC has been awarded a grant through the WDNR to facilitate work on the delisting roadmap document for the St. Louis River AOC. During this project, SLRCAC will coordinate information exchange between federal, state, tribal agencies and local governments. SLRCAC will guide public participation in the roadmap development process. In brief, the SLRCAC will craft, facilitate public and agency review, publish, post on websites, and distribute the delisting roadmap document for the St. Louis River AOC.
RAP Development and Status
A progress report containing the CAC's 43 Stage Two recommendations was published in 1995. Implementation began immediately and continues today. Some recommended actions are well underway or completed, such as: (1) land acquisition, with 34,000 acres bordering the river permanently protected by purchase or donation, (2) connection of Fond du Lac, MN, responsible for a high percentage of failing septic systems, to the WLSSD, (3) programs to reduce sewage bypasses by keeping stormwater out of sanitary sewer systems, (4) completion of a habitat plan for the lower St. Louis River, and (5) implementation of a three-phase sediment strategy to reduce impairments associated with sediment contamination.
The Stage One document was published and reviewed in 1992. The IJC gave the RAP high marks for broadening the geographic scope of the AOC and expanding the definition of the use impairments in order to fully encompass local environmental concerns.
Significant RAP Milestones
- 2004: The SLRCAC proposed restoration goals (PDF 471Kb 12 pages) for many of the impaired uses through a citizen process and submitted them to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
- 2002: Lower St. Louis River Habitat Plan completed. The CAC worked with several partners from city, county, state, and federal agencies and entities on this document.
- 1999: The CAC received funding to implement the habitat plan recommendation (PDF 2Kb 1 page).
- 1996: St. Louis River Citizens Action Committee formed.
- 1995: RAP Recommendation Implementation Status document drafted.
- 1995: St. Louis River System RAP Progress Report completed.
- 1992: The St. Louis River System RAP Stage One document completed.
Recent progress and achievements
Hog Island Great Lakes Legacy Act Project Completed:
November 28, 2005 marked the completion of the Great Lakes Legacy Act sediment cleanup at Hog Island in Superior, Wisconsin. Great Lakes National Program Office Director Gary Gulezian joined Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle and 85 residents, local officials, and legislative aids to celebrate this event. The $6.3 million project removed nearly 55,000 tons of petroleum-contaminated sediment from Newton Creek and parts of Hog Island Inlet. Further replanting and re-seeding will occur in the spring of 2006, and the local community is developing plans for further restoration of the area.
Cleanup of this Great Lakes Legacy Act site, a joint project of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Great Lakes National Program Office and Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, began in July 2005 and the sediment cleanup portion was completed in November 2005. The banks of the creek and inlet were landscaped to prevent erosion. The result will be a healthier habitat for fish and other aquatic life, and the inlet will be safe for recreation.
Approximately $4.1 million of the funds to pay for this project are provided by the Great Lakes Legacy Act. The act authorizes $270 million over a five-year period to clean up contaminated sediment in Great Lakes Areas of Concern." The state of Wisconsin and other parties are providing 35 percent of the project’s cost, or about $2.2 million. These are nonfederal matching funds required by the Legacy Act.
Remediation of Contaminated Sediments:
Surveys conducted in recent years have provided a great deal of useful information about local sediment contamination..
In Minnesota, clean ups are underway at the two state Superfund sites on the river (USX and Interlake). Each site has a community work group.
In Wisconsin, WDNR and Murphy Oil are working together to clean up the Newton Creek System, which includes Hog Island Inlet. This is a staged clean-up process that began with Murphy Oil building a new waste water treatment plant. In fall 1997, Murphy Oil began cleaning up the headwaters of Newton Creek.
The RAP helped Oliver, Wisconsin, solve its wastewater treatment problems. Oliver and the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District (WLSSD) in Duluth agreed to lay a pipe under the river and treat Oliver's waste at WLSSD.
Water quality continues to improve, due to pollution prevention efforts, better pre-treatment programs and new stormwater management activities, including efforts to control storm-related "inflow and infiltration," which has caused sewage bypasses in Duluth, with untreated sewage flowing directly into Lake Superior.
MPCA, WDNR and WLSSD are encouraging pollution prevention in outreach programs aimed at citizens and businesses.
Habitat Protection and Improvement:
In 2002, the Lower St. Louis River Habitat Plan was completed. The CAC worked with several partners from city, county, state, and federal agencies and entities on this document. The Plan is being used to protect and restore the river. The plan classifies specific areas of the entire estuary into habitat types and recommends what actions are needed to restore, protect or enhance the river. The Plan has been embraced by all levels of government and by other groups and organizations. Most recently it was a basis for the part of the remediation of a Superfund site cleanup located in the river at Stryker Bay on the Minnesota side of the river. Recommendations in the Habitat Plan were also used in the Great Lakes Legacy Act contaminated sediment cleanup site on the Wisconsin side, Hog Island Inlet. (See above.)
The RAP was instrumental in the creation of WDNR's St. Louis River Streambank Protection Project, upstream of Oliver, which purchased 6,900 acres, including shorelands bordering five miles along the St. Louis River and 13 miles along the Red River and its main tributaries. The project includes most of the Red River watershed, which is characterized by steep slopes and highly erodible red clay soils.
The St. Louis River Board developed an even larger protection project along the St. Louis, Cloquet and Whiteface River (all in the St. Louis River watershed). Some 22,000 acres were acquired and transferred to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
Bio-control is being used on purple loosestrife infestations in wetlands on both the Minnesota and Wisconsin sides of the lower estuary.
Current projects and outlook
- Natural & Cultural History of the Lower St. Louis River: On-the-Water Guide for Canoeists, Kayakers & Boaters. St. Louis River Citizens Action Committee, August 2001.
- Historic Reconstruction of Property Ownership and Land Uses along the Lower St. Louis River. St. Louis River Citizens Action Committee, October 1999.
- Lake Superior/Duluth-Superior Harbor Toxics Loading Study. Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, September, 1999.
- Issue Paper Concerning Wet Weather Flow Issues: Sanitary Sewer Overflows Developed For the WLSSD Effluent Quality Master Plan Project. Western Lake Superior Sanitary District, 1999.
- Wisconsin's Lake Superior Coastal Wetlands Evaluation: A Report to the Great Lakes National Program Office, U.S. EPA. Wisconsin DNR PUB ER-09599, 1999.
- Lake Superior Basin Water Quality Management Plan. Wisconsin DNR PUBL-WT-278-99-REV, March 1999.
- Lake Superior Lakewide Management Plan 2000. Lake Superior Binational Program , April 2000.
- Erosion and Sedimentation in the Nemadji River Basin. Natural Resources Conservation Service and U.S. Forest Service, 1998.
- Newton Creek System Sediment Contamination Site Characterization Report. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, December 1995.
The St. Louis River Citizens Action Committee, or SLRCAC, consists of people of all ages and walks of life who work together to improve the St. Louis River. The independent nonprofit organization incorporated as a 501(c)(3) organization in 1996 to encourage implementation of the RAP and restoration of the AOC. The SLRCAC has a successful track record of bringing parties together to implement projects and facilitate multi-jurisdictional strategies for the AOC. A prime example is the Lower St. Louis River Habitat Plan (2002) developed by the SLRCAC with federal, state, tribal, and local resource management professionals and citizens. This plan is used extensively by the resource management agencies and local communities.
The St. Louis River System RAP has been recognized since its inception for its high level of citizen participation and community involvement. Hundreds of individuals, representing a broad cross-section of the community, have worked together to identify problems, develop and/or implement recommendations and encourage environmental stewardship. They have provided crucial support for the RAP process and helped to improve the health of the St. Louis River ecosystem.
Just as the St. Louis River and estuary are important components of the Lake Superior Basin Ecosystem, the RAP activities are important to the Lake Superior Binational Program and the Lakewide Management Plan. RAP actions, from contaminated sediment cleanup to habitat protection, pollution prevention, and community involvement are all important to meet the Lake Superior basin goals.
Public Outreach and Education
River Watch Program in Minnesota and Water Watch Program in Wisconsin have involved numerous area teachers and school children in hands-on, field-oriented, water-quality education and monitoring. These efforts have also included a spring River Congress, annual stormdrain stenciling and several art/science collaborations.
The RAP helped get signs posted to warn recreational users about contaminated sediments at Stryker Bay in Duluth and at Hog Island Inlet in Superior.
The SLRCAC has organized clean ups at the Connors Point Recreation Area and Wisconsin Point in Superior as well as Grassy Point and Erie Pier in Duluth.